While largely neglected for the past decade, the situation in Yemen and the Red Sea has suddenly received considerable attention. But while Houthi attacks pose a danger to international trade, tackling that problem threatens to reignite the war in Yemen, thus making the world’s worst humanitarian crisis even worse. So, what should be done about the situation? Is it really such a threat? And should other Red Sea and Aran states be getting involved?
In December 2023, the United States announced the creation of a new naval task force in the Red Sea: Operation Prosperity Guardian. This will tackle the rising threat posed to shipping by the Iranian-backed Houthi Movement based in Yemen. However, the mission faces many challenges. Quite apart from limited international support, there is a danger that it could undermine efforts to resolve the civil war in Yemen. In addition, it could destabilize relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which have been recently improving. So, what exactly is the threat all about?
Yemen is one of the most war-torn countries in the world. Having emerged as two separate countries, the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen), they merged in May 1990 to form the Republic of Yemen. For many years, this was ruled by Ali Abdullah Saleh. However, in 2012, he was forced to resign after mass protests erupted as part of the Arab Spring. This sparked a brutal civil war as the northern-based Houthi Movement seized power in much of the country. This, in turn, led to a Saudi Arabia intervention. But since 2022, the level of fighting has dropped significantly, and there are hopes that a peace agreement may be found. And it’s this that is causing so much concern. Many fear that the new US-led naval mission, Operation Prosperity Guardian, while crucial for protecting the international economy, may upset the delicate search for peace, plunge Yemen back into conflict, and re-ignite Saudi and Iranian tensions – thus aggravating the situation in the broader Middle East.